Movie Review: "Alien: Resurrection" (1997)
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers.
There's a bit of exchange dialogue from "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" that pretty much sums up "Alien: Resurrection". It's during a scene early on in the film when Dr. Hammond is telling Ian about the other island with dinosaurs on it and how he sent people there to check it out...
Dr. Hammond: I'm not going to make the same mistakes again.
Ian: No, you're making all new ones.
This bit of dialogue pretty much rings true for both "Alien 3" and "Alien: Resurrection". The third movie has become a love/hate film in many respects, but has somewhat been redeemed by the 2003 Assembly Cut. Let's go back a bit though, the production was one never-ending mess and 20th Century Fox made a lot of mistakes. However, a few years down the line, it didn't seem so bad. "Alien 3" was a film about tragedy and everything sort of fit in with that particular theme.
Despite killing off Newt, Hicks, and Bishop, the many unidentifiable bald head prisoners, Ripley killing herself, and the lone alien stalking everybody, there was still a chance to save the franchise after "Alien 3". Enter "Alien: Resurrection". Ripley's dead? No problem, let's clone her from that blood sample Dr. Clemens took from her at the prison, because she was pregnant with a queen alien at that time and it's the only foreseeable way for Weyland Yutani to get their hands on a specimen (all the other ones blew up on LV-426 in "Aliens", thus destroying the Derelict Spaceship as well).
Is this cloning idea a flawed one? Yes, but I'm willing to overlook it as long as we get a worthwhile sequel (which we didn't, by the way). The story is set 200 years after "Alien 3", Weyland Yutani is gone and new company called United Systems Military has filled that void. They clone Ripley on a science vessel named the Auriga while in orbit around Pluto, they successfully extract the queen chestburster and decide to keep Ripley (whom in this case is named Ripley 8) around.
The kicker is that she now has some alien strength and capabilities as a side effect of the operation. She also has a much darker side to her. Anyway, the queen starts laying eggs and they pay a crew of space pirates to provide them with a dozen victims for the birthing process. The pirates aren't aware of what's going on, but they soon find themselves mixed up in it anyway because one of them happens to be an android spy who is on a mission to stop the company.
As expected, the aliens break free and all hell breaks loose on the ship which, by the way, is now on a course for Earth. It all sounds good on paper, but execution is everything. For the five year hiatus that followed after "Alien 3", this movie was one of the most anticipated films in Hollywood. Not to mention, it had one of the best teaser trailers ever made (in fact, it's actually ten times better than the movie itself). It seemed as if everything was really looking up for "Alien: Resurrection".
But then you saw the movie and realized that it suffered from the same 'Curse of Four' that would later go on to plague many other hit franchises from "Home Alone" to "Die Hard" to Romero's zombie series. Oh and did I mention Indiana Jones? However, let's go over some of the positive things about "Alien: Resurrection"...
- The scene where Ripley 8 discovers the seven other failed cloning attempts.
- The flooded kitchen and the lift shaft sequence that follows is perhaps some of the best action scenes ever filmed.
- Dr. Wren's death scene (impaled through the head by a chestburster).
- The scene where the crew finds Purvis, one of the guinea pigs for the alien eggs.
- Just about anything involving Dr. Gediman's character, from him teasing one of the aliens behind a glass barrier to his death scene in the nest. Played by Brad Dourif and his crazy self.
- The killing of the Newborn Alien, very grotesque plus it's a unique way to reference the end of the first two movies.
- The final scene when Ripley 8 and the other survivors finally reach Earth. This is where Ripley has been trying to go for the past three movies, now she finally reaches it and the execution of it is very epic.
What's the Rush?
I guess they forgot how to open an 'Alien' film. The movie opens to a distorted collage of mixed flesh (i.e. Ripley and the aliens) as the credits roll. The film's title appears instantly in a flash without any sort of build-up or anticipation. Now, this is not how the last three 'Alien' movies opened. If they were attempting to stay true to the formula, they would know that the other movies had the credits rolling as a bunch of symbols slowly became visible on the screen, eventually forming the title of the film.
Everything here is sort of done in a quick fashion as if they were just trying to get it out of the way. Not to mention, John Frizzel's musical score does not work for the opening of "Alien: Resurrection", it does work for some parts of the movie, but the opening is not one of them. Ripley had previously died in the last movie and everything ended on a bleak note.
Now, in "Alien: Resurrection", Ripley is brought back to life, therefore the tragedy that she had experienced previously should remain throughout this movie as a deep scar, not only for her but the audience as well. We never get this sense (with the exception of a couple scenes) while watching this movie. See, this is why proper transitioning in between sequels is important, and the transition between "Alien 3" and "Alien: Resurrection" is a big epic fail.
Ain't It Funny
The one thing many will notice while watching "Alien: Resurrection" is the amount of black humor that dominates throughout the running time. Compared to the other 'Alien' movies, this is like a borderline sci-fi comedy. Nothing's wrong with having a little dark humor, but this movie is pushing it.
For instance, let's take General Perez -- One of the main characters who is pretty much built around dark humor. From his quirky personality, the excessive hair on his upper arms and shoulders, right down to his comedic death scene. That death scene is one of the biggest red flags for the franchise itself. An alien simply walks up from behind and impales the back of his skull with its tongue, Perez stands in shock for a moment then takes his time to reach behind his head and pull out a patch of bloody flesh. This is like something out of an adult cartoon.
Mind you, the original script played out much differently in this scene. General Perez and his men have a standoff with the aliens in one of the Auriga's cargo bays, some of the acidic blood burns a huge gap in the hull then everyone and everything goes flying out into space. Now that would have made for a more serious death scene.
Resurrected or Retarded?
A widely noticeable problem with "Alien: Resurrection", and this sort of goes back to what I was talking about with transitioning in between sequels, is that we never really get the sense that Ripley has been reborn or brought back to life because she doesn't seem to be the least bit bewildered by her predicament, not whatsoever.
Remember when she awoke 57 years later in "Aliens" and discovered that her daughter was already dead? That was a good scene, we hardly have anything like that here. Ripley 8 just wakes up and everything is business as usual to her, it seems. She displays zero emotion, despite having a dark side to her. I know her DNA is supposed to be mixed with that of the alien's, but in that case she should seem internally conflicted. However, the problem is that she doesn't.
Here's a woman who fought with every fiber of her being to destroy this species so that the company would never be able to bring it back to Earth, this costed the lives of many friends, colleagues, people she cared about, and not to mention her very own life in the end. Now she's been brought back, against her own will, so that the idiots could get their hands on the queen that's inside her.
So therefore, the company won. Ripley should be pissed off and distressed at these people. I was actually happy when she decided to choke Dr. Wren in an early scene, it took her long enough. Speaking of which, there's only four scenes in which Ripley 8 shows any emotion. There's the one I just mentioned, then there's the scene where she discovers the seven other failed cloning attempts and puts them out of their misery with a flamethrower.
The other two scenes were actually cut from the final film and they reference back to Newt from "Aliens". One of them takes place early on during Ripley 8's psychiatric evaluation, the crew member shows her a drawing of a little girl and awaits her response, but Ripley 8 just breaks down into tears. Then, later on, Ripley 8 and Call (the android spy) are in the ship's chapel and she reminisces about a little girl she used to know (Newt). Very powerful scenes, it's so unfortunate that they were not left in.
"Alien: Resurrection" presents us with a new addition to the xenomorph lifecycle, this being the Newborn Alien -- A hybrid mix of human and alien DNA. The Queen herself gives birth to it without the use of an egg sack. The concept of this Newborn Alien is not a bad idea, I mean it's one big genetic freak accident that is twice as deadly as the other aliens. The problem, like the rest of the film, is execution.
He's given human eyes and cries like a puppy would. The original script called for a totally more terrifying design which was closer to that of a spider, albeit with pincers that could draw blood from its victims. If only they had stuck with this design instead. Speaking of the original script, there were a few different endings written in which the Newborn was killed differently each time...
Of course, there was the theatrical one and the director's cut version which both show the Newborn getting sucked out into space through a tiny crack in a window. The original script's ending had the Betty crashing into a snowy forest where the Newborn is crushed in a harvester, others took place in a junkyard, near a cliff, and more interestingly, a maternity ward which involved Ripley 8 delivering an infant Newborn Alien via vaginal birth. Oh, if only these other avenues were explored, one could only imagine the final film we would end up with.
Random Things That Make No Sense
- Why exactly is "Alien: Resurrection" set 200 years after "Alien 3"? What was the point of setting it so far into the future if they weren't going to put any effort into making it look or seem different? Just by the looks of it, the film looks like it takes place several months after "Alien 3", from the technology right down to the clothes.
- When Ripley 8 inquires in Dr. Gediman about how they found her, he explains that they found her blood sample from Fury 16 on ice. Wait a second, I thought the prison planet from "Alien 3" was called Fury 161?
- Why do these people give Ripley 8 a room with no furniture, not even a bed to sleep in? This is not World War II.
- After Dr. Wren finds out that the crew of the Betty unknowingly brought a spy on board, he orders the military to execute them on the spot. This is a little extreme, shouldn't they be made judged in a court or something? This is the military we're talking about, right?
- In the lift shaft, Dr. Wren betrays the group and shoots Call in the chest. She falls down into the flooded kitchen, but moments later, she's standing behind the very same door that Dr. Wren just escaped through. So how did she go from the pool to behind a door that is several stories above her in such a short period of time, without getting noticed? This suggests that she knew of an easier way to get up there than having to go through a lift shaft rigged with dozens of eggs. Gee, I wonder why she didn't let the group know beforehand.
- During the lift shaft scene, the remaining alien is right behind Christie and Vriess on the ladder. They are the only ones trying to defend themselves from it while the rest of the group stands at the top of the shaft and does nothing but watch everything go down. I'm sure one of them could have gotten a better shot at the alien. But no, it takes Johner having to hang upside down from the ladder to shoot down at the alien and kill it. Then, everyone continues to watch as the injured Christie gives up and puts himself out of misery, despite Vriess' pleas. WTF?
- So the group decide to crash the Auriga into Earth since the auto self-destruct is out of order. Okay, but the resulting explosion looks more like an asteroid impact when it should be more on par with that of Hiroshima.
Remedies for "Alien: Resurrection"
- Ditch the opening sequence for that of the original script which involved a nightmare about Newt that Ripley was having during the cloning operation.
- Tone down the black humor.
- General Perez is overly comical. Instead, why not make him more like Captain Rhodes from George Romero's "Day of the Dead" (i.e. a big a-hole)?
- Elgyn and Hillard die way too soon. They should have lasted a bit longer.
- As I mentioned earlier, we need Ripley 8 to let her emotions out more. Otherwise, all we have here is a cardboard cut-out superhero.
- The Queen Alien was severely under-used in this movie, the way she died felt so cheap.
- The way that the group loses Ripley 8 to the aliens in the third act also felt cheap. The aliens just pull her through the floor. Instead, why not have Ripley 8 choose to go to the nest and face the Queen on her own while the rest of the group makes a run for the Betty?
- The movie as a whole felt somewhat short. In fact, I believe this is the shortest 'Alien' film. A lot was cut out from the original draft of "Alien: Resurrection", including a scene where the group shortcut through a greenhouse section of the ship where they board a jeep and are chased through a jungle maze by the aliens. The sequence ends in a corridor where one of the characters sacrifices himself so that everyone else could escape, resulting in another breach of the ship's hull.
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